Looking back, I sure am disappointed to not have gotten in at the ground floor with the 1988 series. My childhood Joe collection stopped in the midst of the 1987 series. I like the ’87 releases, but the Cobras were…odd. With several cool new Joes as well as Cobra army builders, the followup was a fine year. I recall spotting the new Storm Shadow at a friend’s house (his little brother was a few years younger than us) and just had to check out the figure. I wouldn’t find out about the Hydro-Viper until years later, and just seeing the card art drew me in. The design is certainly unique for a Cobra underwater trooper.
While the Eel was a colorful code name, the Hydro-Viper’s aquatic abilities are more literal. According to the file card, the troops are surgically altered to be more effective in their environment. The Strato-Viper corps were I believe the first troops to be subjected to such modification. As the series went on, this sort of “upgrades” of troopers would occur again and again. By the Valor vs. Venom years, Cobra was seemingly augmenting its entire army. The most obvious result of changes on the figure are its webbed hands–well, one is posed with an open palm, anyway. It gets the point across, but we lose a gripping hand in the process.
I know that a lot of collectors won’t care for the color scheme. I don’t mind it too much, but I think a more naturalistic color for the wetsuit may have helped bring out the details in the mold. As it stands, the pruple overloads the eye. The card art depicted the vest in black, and that extra paint app in itself may have made the figure more palatable. If you have a copy of the 1988 pack-in catalog handy, you can see a pre-production version with a black vest. Speaking of pre-prod–If you want to check out some details of the sculpt from the original turnarounds, check out this article from Tim Finn’s A Real American book blog. While you’re there, check out the whole thing–it’s fantastic!
Finally, if animal companions are your thing, the devil ray is certainly a unique pal. I don’t know what use they would have–the file card is strangely silent on them; maybe Cobra has trained them to be attack rays.