My childhood familiarity with Python Patrol was limited.
At 12 years old, I babysat a boy who had a GI Joe collection, including Iron Grenadiers and Python Patrol. But I had left GI Joe after the 1988 figures came out, sometime around GI Joe #84, and there was no looking back anytime soon. I didn’t start collecting figures again until I was 17 years old, and although I also collected most of the original GI Joe comic run, I somehow missed the Python Patrol issues and forgot that sub-team had ever existed in the toyline.
In 2009, I was living in Halifax and trying to write for a living when I found Mark Bellomo’s Ultimate Guide to GI Joe, 1982-1994. I read the first edition from cover to cover, and circled back repeatedly to the Joes of my childhood, the 1982-88 figures and vehicles. Python Patrol’s existence came back to me while perusing the 89s, but my re-entry into the collecting world was meant to be limited to my childhood favourites. The lack of familiarity or emotional attachment, and the hideous yellow that marred the Python Patrol figures to varying degrees, prevented me from tracking down any figures from within the subset.
I did, however, handle some Python Patrol figures directly, a few years later, on one of my early trips to Cherry Bomb Toys, after I moved to Victoria, finding a Python Viper and Tele-Viper in a bin of reasonably priced loose figures. I passed them over, though, sticking to my original goals, while now beginning to appreciate them more in hand than in the book.
Years and years later, at the end of 2017, when I had finished a full run of figures to 1988, and a full run of vehicles to 1986 – less a few rarities, of course – I shifted my goalposts. The Red Laser’s Army figure, Python, was the triangulation of three new worlds for me: factory customs, troopbuilding and post-1988 figures. Python propelled my interest in the original Hasbro Python Officer.
On New Year’s Eve, 2017, Cherry Bomb Toys advertised a 50% off sale on GI Joes.
I had bought a few Cobra Soldiers from the store over the past months, and had been eying other troops, with my discretionary budget being the only constraint. But at 50% off, I couldn’t get to the store fast enough. I bought a complete Rolling Thunder and 15 or so troops, including Cobra Soldiers, Crimson Guards, Eels, Snow Serpents, Tele-Vipers, BATS and Vipers. But the most significant purchase was my first Python Officer, the figure the RLA Python had served as such a faithful homage to.
Over the years, I had acquired many 1989-94 Joes through large lots off eBay. But I had liquidated every one of those figures as I tightened my collection, convinced that 1988 should be my cut-off forever. (That meant many mistakes, including giving up Alley Vipers, Night Vipers, Sonic Fighters, Eco Warriors and mailaway figures I would eventually want to reacquire.)
With no figures newer than 1988 in my collection, at the time, and having never purchased a figure from 1989-94 individually, buying that Python Officer was significant. And it was a gateway.
Within two months, I would be tracking down 90s versions of Low-Light, Sci-Fi and Shockwave. Within six months, I was buying the whole series of Python Patrol figures from a collector in Newfoundland, including another Python Officer for good measure. And within a year, I started buying any figure from 1982-94 that I didn’t already own.
There were a few reasons I was so jazzed for that first Python Officer.
He was a newer released version of my favourite troop builder, the Cobra Soldier. His look stood out – as all Python Patrol figures do – but wasn’t as gaudy as the Python versions of Copperhead or Crimson Guard. Black, grey and red were relatively subdued, together, and the bright yellow was limited to his gloves and knife strap, the python cross-hatching limited to just his suspenders, belt and knee pads. The combination of colours was an extraordinary study in contrast.
Some collectors have extreme devotion to the early Joes. I understand. After all, that’s where I started. But even the most devoted fans of the lower-nonsense, early years, should see the Python Officer’s merit at a glance. This is a classic mold reimagined in an extremely dynamic way, and possibly the best-looking figure in the original run, or in any subsequent GI Joe series, domestic or foreign.
If GI Joe is art, this is Michaelangelo’s David.
When I eventually found them, the Python Patrol issues of GI Joe were among the most disappointing in the comic run, as the Python vehicles were positioned as cheap and unreliable, distributed in Eastern Europe by Destro’s cousin, some used Lada dealer-slash-monarch in a messed-up costume. Hama had used a similar angle, years earlier, with the Cobra Terror Drome and that was a sin, given the Terror Drome was the most expensive Joe toy in 1986. So devaluing it in the comic book was disrespectful to anyone who had bought it. The slight on Python Patrol wasn’t quite as insulting, but I’d still be pissed if I was a parent who had purchased any of the Python Patrol figures or vehicles, only to see those toys belittled in the Marvel comic.
That was, more-or-less, the era where Mr. Hama could get away with anything in the comics.
There seemed to be a drop-off in the quality of his writing in GI Joe just before he took over Wolverine, and maybe he was getting bored.
Checking my notes…
Apparently, he’s still writing GI Joe comics 30+ years later, so clearly he got a second and third wind along the way.
No disrespect meant, by the way. I could only dream of writing anything near what he was producing at his peak.
Being out of Joes when Python Patrol was released, I have no direct experiences playing with them, although I spent some time studying the figures and toys 30+ years ago, when I was babysitting that young Joe fan. Quite often I was called over after kids went to sleep, paid to watch TV and listen for any noises down the hall. And I can remember almost wishing my young charge had been awake while I was there, so I could use entertaining him as an excuse to play with his GI Joes.
If I was a kid using this figure, I’m not sure I would treat him as an officer. The original mold is permanently ingrained as a soldier, and that carries weight when I see this version. And, as a collector, I think the figure is too beautiful to limit troop building him to the quantities of an officer, while instead buying more Python Copperheads, Crimson Guards and Tele-Vipers. I want to see endless columns of this figure.
I want to drown in a sea of the original Cobra Soldier, the original Crimson Guard, the original Snow Serpent, the original Viper and the 89 Python Officer. Those are my top-five troop builders and, with unlimited resources, that would be my core Cobra army.
Apart from being the first vintage, post-1988 Joe I purchased, directly, the Python Officer was also the first post-1988 figure I put on display, and the first post-1988 MOC I ever bought. As usual, he stands at the centre of the Python Patrol crew on my display shelf. I sometimes think about giving him a cushy job, driving one of the Python Patrol vehicles, or as gunner in the Cobra Rage. But I want to be able to see him.
I don’t want any vehicles to obscure my view of Mr. Handsome.