1990 Saw Viper

I’ve admitted before that I was once addicted to teen dramas and no one called me on it, so here I go again…

In 2003, I was living in Whitehorse. I had just graduated university in Edmonton, and had moved to the Yukon to take a job in product management for a telecommunications company. My favourite teen drama, Dawson’s Creek, had just finished its six and final season and I needed something new to keep me entertained.

The OC was fresh and hip, and surprisingly relatable, given I was a 20-something from northern Canada relating to rich teenagers from southern California. Something about Seth may have reminded me of me at 14. Seth’s dad was in the Allan Thicke/Growing Pains mould that had permeated my 1980s sitcom-watching childhood. Plus, I’d known a handful of Ryan Atwoods over the years, had crushed on my share of Summer Robertses, and had two girls nextdoor growing up, one like Anna Stern, one like Marissa Cooper.

Long story short, and spoiler alert, in season three there’s the ultra-rare death of a central cast member on a teen drama. Marissa’s death was heartbreaking and sad and incomprehensible, like someone offing Daphne on Scooby Doo.

How it happened was this: Marissa, rebellious since the first episode, falls off the rails for a while and gets mixed up with the shadiest character on shady lane. She sews her life back together and, of course, he becomes obsessed and tries to hold onto her, causing her inadvertent death in a car accident.

The actor who played Captain Shady was in a handful of shows afterwards, and the feeling I get whenever I see him is the same as how I feel whenever I see a Saw Viper.

Finally, he got to the point!!!

Saw Viper is, hands down, my least favourite Cobra figure, and the notorious Saw Viper from GI Joe #109 is, hands down, my least favourite ARAH comic character.

Killing so many Joes, needlessly, mercilessly? Irredeemable.

Off the top of my head, I can name almost every Joe killed by that bloodthirsty sack of shit: Doc, Thunder, Heavy Metal, Crankcase… Plus Breaker, Quick Kick and Crazylegs were killed by Cobra with Saw Viper leading the charge.

Killing characters in comics is sometimes necessary but this seemed exorbitant. I assume Mr. Hama had been waiting for the opportunity to cull some characters from the bloated cast, but when he got the green light he stepped on the gas with full weight and almost flipped the car, trying to take the machine from 0 to 100. The thing is, doing so many in a short burst was traumatizing. I had been watching violent, R-rated action movies forever, and I considered myself unflappable. Yet the sheer volume of known characters being killed was jarring.

Every one of those characters was someone’s favourite. Breaker was one of mine. And killing that many, that quickly, after so few deaths up to that point…

It hadn’t been all that long since the original Cobra Commander came along and locked his enemies in a doomed freighter on Cobra Island. But his own revival had proved that those deaths might not stick. And they were Cobras, and their eventual downfall was comeuppance. (Not Billy’s, of course, but Billy wasn’t an action figure, and being immortalized in plastic had been a bullet proof vest for the good guys.) Bottom line, these separate mass executions had different feels.

For the Joe deaths, it was too convenient. We had a military operation featuring a bunch of characters we rarely saw, some of whom shouldn’t have been on that type of battlefield (i.e. Quick Kick). It didn’t feel like a natural platoon, so the mass slaughter didn’t feel organic, more like Kirk rounding a bunch of randos to accompany him in the transporter. And the executioner was an unfortunate choice. Maybe Saw Viper was the newest, shiniest bunny, and maybe that was part of the message being told, as a new character was responsible for killing off so many older characters.

“Out with the old, in with the new.”

“This ain’t your daddy’s GI Joe.”

All that stuff.

The thing is that many of the characters killed were big parts of my childhood, and to be killed senselessly, needlessly, and when I was back, checking in on the brand during a nostalgia binge, could have sent me away from GI Joe forevermore.

I’d say that of all the guardians of the brand, the one I trust most would be Larry Hama. He had written all the filecards I treated as gospel, and was also the voice of the comic book, which I had originally read from issue #8 to #84. That’s a long damn time. And almost no one of consequence had died since the 30s. All your favourite Joes walked into battle, and they all went home at night, to a family that might have existed off-screen. Except one of my favourites, Breaker, didn’t walk home that night. And Doc, who was also special to me, who reminded me of my grade five teacher who had died of a heart attack, was killed too. And Battle Force 2000, decimated a few issues later, wasn’t a ridiculous concept to me, as my best friend, Donny, and I used them to recreate scenes from Aliens, as we were about to outgrow GI Joe. And the guy who killed so many of my childhood Joes was dressed in purple, with maroon stirrups and a chin like my junior high nemesis?

If I couldn’t hate the true architect of the slaughter – Mr. Hama – I had an easy scapegoat to take all the blame.

Let me say that I had absolute intention to remain impartial in reviewing the Saw Viper figure, and not let my opinion of his quality be swayed by his characterization in the comic book.

That out of the way, let me say that Saw Viper is the worst figure released in the history of the GI Joe ARAH line, 1982-94.

No bias, though.

So why do I hate him?

The colours are atrocious. I assume it’s popular opinion that purple was a terrible choice for the military. I know the pallets are limited to differentiate the two sides, with GI Joe primarily sporting green and the full variety of earth tones, leaving Cobra to blue, black, red and purple. Blue and red might have stuck out as much as purple in the jungle, dessert, forest and winter environs, but purple always seemed less practical. Maybe blue and red get passes based on their historic significance in wars. Or maybe purple just didn’t feel rugged enough to me…

Why stop there? Why didn’t Cobra get teal? Why not have a whole troop of Cobras hit the battlefield dressed as the 1990s Charlotte Hornets?

The bottom line is that unless you’re royalty, it’s hard to be taken seriously in purple.

But did Hasbro really want children taking Cobra seriously? Very few Cobras, post-1986, felt menacing.

So Saw Viper’s armour is purple, and that base colour extends to his legs. He isn’t quite Toxo-Viper v1, thankfully. But the purple was more than enough to impact his perception.

Did Cobra become strictly an urban assault terrorist organization? Because, clearly, they weren’t dressed to be anything else.

There are attempts to mollify Saw Viper’s purple, however, using a less ostentatious maroon on his leggings, arm bands, gloves and helmet, and a downright respectable black on his arms and belt. So the colours are approaching redemption… until you reach the belt buckle and visor.

Neon green.

Neon seemed to arrive on the scene in the late 1980s and was essentially dead by 1992. Which is the window that this figure would have been designed and sold in.

Okay, so is it just the colours that are the issues? Hell no.

The mould is garbage.

There, I said it.

His legs and arms are too slim. And his lack of pockets and pouches is an issue for an assault trooper. There must be something he needs quick at hand when razing cities.

I will say that the front of his body armour is the highlight, but the odd horizontal lines on his boots, back and back of his helmet, do nothing for me. I’m not sure if they were simply fashionable in the early 90s… But I think a boot knife, some grenades and a bandolier were even more fashionable on soldiers.

The head seems inspired by Robocop, on some level, but it’s terribly proportioned relative to the rest of his body, and his chin and smirk scream “douchebag”.

(Not that I ever use that word but I couldn’t think of anything that fit better.)

And the chaps…!

Moving on…

His rifle is *a tad* outsized. It seems more in scale with He-Man or TMNT than GI Joe. Not sure the mini-bipod and his skinny arms would be capable of supporting it. It’s well-designed and well-detailed, just ridiculously oversized. And the handle has the potential to be a thumb-breaker.

Bipods are cool but insanely hard for kids to hang onto. And ammo belts are another nice touch, particularly for a heavy machine gun operator. This one looks like it might get chewed through quickly, though.

The shape and size of the backpack are alright. Some nice detailing, but nothing spectacular.

Somehow – through the bipod and ammo belt – he became a difficult figure for me to complete. I’ve bought three or four and only have one with all his accessories.

Despite all my reservations about the figure, and the fact that I absolutely hate his characterization, I have found a use for him. My least favourite figure is now driving one of my favourite 1990 vehicles, the Cobra Rage. It seemed a logical place for him, as not many Cobras had any compatible colours, and it meant that I don’t have to look at him anymore, since he’s hidden away in the sheltered cockpit.

Somehow, he’s made his way onto my display shelf, a distinction a few hundred other figures don’t share. Yet, I will never forgive him for Breaker and Doc.

And if he ever shows up in the OC looking to take Summer Roberts for a drive, I will kill him myself.

5 replies on “1990 Saw Viper”

Using him on the Rage is perfect (and the Rock-Viper and Night Creeper go well look good on it too, as well as being year appropriate!)

I’ve always been pretty forgiving of Cobra colors, maybe because they had lots of purple in the lineup by the time I came onboard in 1989. But the gun has always driven me crazy. Like you say, it is way too big (a problem shared with the Rock-Viper that year) and it’s also a thumb breaker. There’s just no good way for him to hold it. If it were smaller, like on the card art and in the DIC cartoon, it would be way better.

The way I rationalize SAW-Vipers is that they’re not ordinary machine gunners who accompany every squad; that role is handled by regular Vipers who carry light machine guns. Instead, the SAW-Vipers are a specialist branch of elite machine gunners, only called in when necessary. Sometimes, they fight individually, with M-60s from Sub-Zero (these are from the same year and look a lot more like what The SAW-Viper had in the comics). But usually, they work in teams of two, manning one big machine gun that’s usually fired from the bipod, not by one man standing up. This idea makes their uniform color work (since purple is the cobra specialists’ color), it explains why their guns are so huge, and it accommodates the lack of bipods and ammo belts (like you, I’ve found these tough to get–I have a bunch of SaW-Vipers but only 2 bipods and 2 belts). They’re not my favorite figures, but from this perspective, they work.

I think if I came to GI Joe at a later time I might not really care about the colours. I know it doesn’t really matter, that GI Joe had to compete with other toy lines and had to fit better into pop culture in the 1990s, versus being a market leader in the 1980s, so I get it and all is good with some of those choices in retrospect.

I like your approach to the Saw Vipers. Almost every figure works on some level, if you find the right angle.

Thanks for stopping by, General, as always.

Death in the G.I. Joe comic was pretty often handled poorly. It always came about as some form of housekeeping, since a bunch of characters would get off’d and after the momentary shock, it was pretty much status quo.

It’s one of those things where if a character like Doc or Breaker is going to buy the farm, I’m okay with it, so long as it’s something that has some meaning. A massacre that really didn’t lead to any actual paradigm shift is pretty bogus. It also didn’t help that the Joe team never really did in any COBRAs. Sure, they’re the good guys, but they’re awfully ineffective.

SAW-Viper is a truly bad figure. He’s ill-proportioned, plain while being busy, and doesn’t even feel like a figure that could be saved by more grounded colouring. That gun is terrible too, though I think Rob Liefeld lifted it for Cable to be toting on some 90s X-Men comic.

You’re right that the deaths need to serve a purpose, not be a housekeeping matter. I wonder too given what was going on in the late 80s/early 90s with Todd McFarlane, the comics code and the mass exodus of talent whether Marvel envisioned GI Joe becoming a more violent comic book (I.e. paradigm shift). Considering the military subject matter, that wouldn’t be too surprising. But I also feel there could have been significant pushback from parents who considered GI Joe “safe violence”, kids/readers who didn’t want to lose their favourite characters, and Hasbro, who had invested so much in their roster and needed to have characters alive to repopulate the toy shelves every year. Lots to consider.

That version of Cable was something to behold. Never much cared for him, myself, though I was an X-Men fan.

After seeing the SAW in the comic, I assumed his figure would be awesome. But, I wasn’t buying toys and didn’t see one until I happened by a toy end cap at the KMart in my college town on move in day. So, I didn’t much look at him. (And, being KMart, his gun had been removed from the package.)

When I finally got one, I was underwhelmed by the figure. He didn’t live up to the big, scary guy from the comics. And, the gun! It was just so terrible. I’ve found the 2006 Viper Pit SMG works much better with the figure. But, now, even incomplete figures command a premium and it’s not worth it to get any more.

The deaths hit me hard. Breaker was bad as he was my first figure. But, guys die in war and I was able to reconcile it. But, Doc hit me harder. It was callous and Doc was a non-combatant. And, Doc seemed like a character that Larry liked to use.

I seem to recall Larry saying that sometimes people die in war and the deaths are rarely much more than random deaths. Bullets are addressed to “occupant”, etc. But, Joe was always a superhero book set in the military. So, you kind of want the superhero death and save the random perishing for the ‘Nam.

I think they they overplayed the SAW Viper’s character. I don’t even recall if/how he died in the vintage run. I think they brought him back in one of the rehashes. But, he served his purpose, caused a quick shock, and then Joe went back what was considered normal in the ’90’s.

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