SKULL BUSTER v.2 (2013)
The first Cobra Range Viper was released in 1990. That was the year that Doug and I stopped collecting G.I. Joes. Each of us only got 1 figure from the 1990 assortment before throwing in the towel; I got Rampart and Doug got Undertow. In hindsight I’m not sure why we stopped collecting that year because there were still quite a few cool characters being released at the time. The brand hadn’t yet been bogged down with the neon ninja crap that was so prevalent a couple of years later. I always enjoyed collecting the various Cobra troopers so I’m not sure why, at 12 years old, I let cool new troopers like the Laser Viper, Rock Viper and Range Viper slip through my fingers. The Range Viper was especially cool and unique looking. He had a bizarre skeletal face with big eyes, gritted teeth, and an exposed brain. It wasn’t clear whether he was supposed to be some sort of mutated monster soldier or if he was just wearing a freaky helmet. Range Vipers were Cobra’s Wilderness Troopers so their strange appearance and blue and yellow color scheme didn’t seem to make much sense at all but there was no denying that they were cool looking.
A couple of years before the new-sculpt era relaunch of 2002 there were a handful of G.I. Joe two-packs released in 2000. I remember seeing the packs in Toys R Us and thinking they were kind of neat. I was a 22 year old toy collector by that time who hadn’t bought a new G.I. Joe since Rampart 10 years earlier. Had the two-packs consisted of brand new figures I probably would have bought them all but they were simply repaints of 80s figures and that didn’t interest me too much. I did however buy 1 pack consisting of Major Bludd and a Rock Viper. I opted for that pack because Bludd had always been a favorite of mine and my childhood Major Bludd was the only vintage Joe figure that I’d ever lost. This was my chance to replace that lost toy. While I ended up with the Rock Viper simply because of his pack mate I found myself really liking the figure. I’m not sure why he was named Rock Viper because he was a straight re-paint of the 1990 Range Viper with the weird skull and brain design. Only I liked the new gray, white, and red paint scheme much more than the original blue and yellow. Major Bludd ended up in the figure bucket with little fanfare but I found myself unable to stop fiddling with Rock/Range Viper.
In 2005 a new-sculpt version of Range Viper was released. That figure finally cleared up the mystery of the Range Viper’s creepy visage. The figure had a removable skull faced helmet with a standard ski masked face underneath. I was glad to see they were intended to be people and not monsters. I was a big fan of that 2005 figure and bought it multiple times over so I could build a small squad of Range Vipers for the diorama I had set up in my apartment at the time. During those new sculpt years Hasbro also released a new purple version of the original Range Viper mold. But that figure wasn’t intended to be just another Range Viper, he was Skull Buster, the commander of the Range Vipers. According to his file card it was a position he earned by being meaner and nastier than any of his other skull-faced brethren. I never got the actual Skull Buster figure but I used my gray and red Rock Viper as a Skull Buster stand-in for my diorama.
The Range Viper has been released twice in the modern era. The first was included in the 2009 Defense of Cobra island 7-pack and featured the blue and yellow color scheme of the 1990 original. The second had a green paint job and was sold exclusively at Target under the “Rise of Cobra” banner. Both of those figures were pretty cool but I was hoping to eventually see the mold re-painted in the grey and red Rock Viper color scheme. If that figure ever came I intended to display him as Skull Buster.
Well Hasbro never got around to releasing an updated grey and red Range/Rock Viper for me to use as an updated Skull Buster but the Collector’s Club has done one better and released an updated version of the actual Skull Buster in all of his purple glory. Skull Buster was an excellent and obvious choice for the Club to tackle for their subscription service. Since the original Skull Buster was nothing more than a repainted vintage Range Viper the Club could do the same with a modern Range Viper. This meant no additional tooling was necessary and the figure would be low cost to produce. Plus Skull Buster is a name character that I’m sure many fans were excited for.
So my Skull Buster arrived in the mail earlier this month, one of two figures (the second being Widescope) included in my second FSS 2.0 shipment. The first 2 figures were Tiger Force versions of Airtight and Shipwreck. I’m not a big fan of Tiger Force and while those first two figures impressed me more than I expected them to I was still much more excited to receive these next two figures. Both Widescope and Skull Buster first appeared during the new sculpt years of the early 2000s, a period doesn’t get much love from Joe fans. Not many of the characters created during that time have made the transition into the modern era so getting two of them together was pretty awesome.
I’ll talk about Widescope in a later review. Today I’m just gonna look at the updated Skull Buster. For the most part this figure is pretty great. The head, torso, legs and upper arms are all repainted pieces from the previously released Range Viper which is exactly what you would expect. The mold has been repainted purple with blue and gray highlights just like the original version. He’s got a backpack, pistol, machine gun, grenade launcher, bolo-spear, and a bullet belt. He also has a removable skull helmet with the ski-mask face underneath.
I do however have one issue with this figure and it’s a big one. For some reason the Club decided not to use the Range Viper’s lower arms. They used every other piece of the Range Viper but opted to use Shadow Tracker’s lower arms instead. Shadow Tracker was a tall and bulky figure. His arms look really out of place on the Range Viper mold. It gives Skull Buster goofy looking gorilla arms that hang to his knees when resting at his side. Plus the hands on these lower arms were sculpted to hold Shadow Tracker’s bow so Skull Buster can barely hold his guns due to the weirdly arranged fingers. I cannot imagine why on earth the club chose to do this when the Range Viper arms would have worked just fine as they were.
Gorilla arms aside I’m happy to get an updated Skull Buster. The colors look great and even the arm issues can be hidden depending on how you pose him. It’s a real shame that one bad parts choice really drags this figure down. 6 out of 10.