It’s August 2020, which means it’s time for Cobra Convergence V (full schedule and links here)! Here’s my little contribution to this amazing community event that Hooded Cobra Commander 788 spearheads every year.
Today I’m joined by my friend RTG of Attica Gazette for a look at the 1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper, who was available exclusively as a mail-in offer. RTG is doing me a huge favor by providing photos and analysis– I never experienced the original Storm Shadow mold as a kid, and he’s written extensively about the figure and has something insightful to say each time he does. I couldn’t think of anyone better to help me out with this one.
Here’s the figure’s filecard, presented without embellishment or commentary, courtesy of YoJoe. It’s pretty wild.
Motto: “He who masters the art of self discipline can crush any adversary, even G.I.Joe!”
Recruited from the highest ranks of Cobra’s Viper Corps, the COBRA NINJA VIPERS are the elite representation of Cobra’s new elevated level of ruthlessness. Only the most sinister and cunning Cobras are selected for duty as Ninja Vipers. Cobra Ninja Vipers are no less than 10th level black belts in karate, jujitsu and kung fu. These villains are extremely obedient and always carry out their orders to the letter. They function as covert subversives who can “persuade” any foe to do their bidding by entrapping the individual in one of their patented martial arts maneuvers. If given the opportunity, Cobra Ninja Vipers could wreak enough havoc worldwide to seriously damage G.I. Joe’s global operations.
1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper Was the Odd Ninja Out
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of kids were into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From what I’ve read, the “ninja craze” was big in the 80s, but that was before I was aware of what a ninja was– or even what a turtle was, for that matter. The “ninja craze” bled over into the 90s so much that we were all obsessed with TMNT and anything else with “ninja” on the label.
Whenever I got to rent an NES game in the early 90s, you can bet I looked for any box with the word “ninja” on it before I even considered anything else. Some of those were really fun, like Ninja Crusaders and Ninja Gaiden. Others just sat on top of my Nintendo until the rental period was over. But even when I got burned, I still wanted more ninjas.
In 1992, GI Joe’s Ninja Force came along. By that time, I was more into GI Joe than I was into TMNT. The excellent figures from 1990 and 1991 turned GI Joe from a passing interest into an object of total devotion. Coupled with reruns of the Sunbow cartoon series (I never caught much of the then-current DIC cartoon) and rented VHS tapes of GI Joe: The Movie, I had all the sci-fi military madness I could handle. But then the GI Joe ninjas came along, and I was even more hooked.
Ninjas have almost always been a big part of GI Joe, but I didn’t know that as a kid. Snake Eyes was practically a non-entity to me, as I didn’t really read the comics as a young kid. To me, GI Joe was Flint, Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Shipwreck, and the action figures in my own collection. I’d probably seen Storm Shadow fight Spirit in the Sunbow cartoon by the time Ninja Force hit retail, but it was nothing that stood out in my mind.
So the 1992 Ninja Force Storm Shadow was my Storm Shadow. I adored that figure. He instantly became a main character in my Joe world. When I eventually lost his sword, he started using those little plastic cutlasses from overpriced restaurant cocktails, Lego lances, or anything else I could find. I loved Storm Shadow.
And when I first saw the 1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper in a mail-away catalog, I had no idea he was a repaint of the original Storm Shadow. To me, Storm Shadow was the Ninja Force guy. He looked like that in the Atlantis Factor NES game, too– so how could he ever look any different?
When I saw Ninja Viper in the Terror on the Tundra catalog (image courtesy of my friend Battle Armor Dad, who you can also find on Twitter and Instagram), I had no point of reference for the figure. I thought he looked a bit odd compared to Slice, Dice, Storm Shadow, and Nunchuk. He just didn’t entice me. I don’t even remember noticing the Hawk and Iceberg figures pictured alongside him in the catalog. That’s how much he and his fellow Terror on the Tundra figures captivated me.
I liked mail-away figures quite a lot at the time. You’d wait seemingly forever for them to arrive, but once they made it into your hands, there was no better feeling. I had several of them from the 1991 mail-away catalog, including Jinx, Quick Kick, Serpentor, and Strato-Viper.
Jinx and Quick Kick arrived after I got my first Ninja Force figures, so my entire GI Joe world became one where science fiction soldiers and mystical ninjas held the same level of importance. Jinx and Quick Kick were good allies for Storm Shadow and good foils for Slice and Dice. It was great!
I was hungry for more ninjas at the time, but I still didn’t consider the Ninja Viper when I looked at that catalog– which I did quite often. He just couldn’t hang with Slice and Storm Shadow.
Even though ninjas are indisputably a huge part of the franchise, they’re still divisive among GI Joe fans. Ninja Force still isn’t popular. In the 1990s, many characters were retroactively made into ninjas, which rubbed people the wrong way. I get it. I think they went overboard in that regard, too. But I couldn’t imagine GI Joe without ninjas. It’s a big part of the appeal for me.
All of the 1992 Ninja Force figures, who Ninja Viper would have stood alongside, are pretty good. 4/6 of them are iconic. The 1993 figures fare less well, but I still think Bushido and Zartan are all time classics. And, really, I like even the fatally flawed figures like Scarlett and Snake Eyes.
According to both RTG and what I’ve read from Mike T of Forgotten Figures, the 1992 Ninja Viper was pretty popular among collectors in the early days of the online fandom. Popular enough to fetch higher prices than most 90s figures, anyway. But not popular enough to feature in a ton of photos or other content. Probably because it was just a repaint of the original Storm Shadow mold.
My first experience with the 84 Storm Shadow mold was the comic pack version from 2005. I really liked that figure, and since then I’ve tracked down more iterations of the mold from the later ARAH-style Hasbro releases and various factory custom producers.
When I became more aware of Ninja Viper as an adult, I just thought he looked like a ninja wearing medical scrubs. As the years wore on, though, the colors became more appealing to me, and I eventually found a used, incomplete copy for a reasonable price.
The 90s-exclusive mail-away figures are interesting to me and I now jump on them whenever they’re affordable. I’m not trying to complete the ARAH GI Joe line, but a few of those mail-away figures (and a couple Sky Patrol guys) are really my only remaining wants from the line. They’re all just so weird and charming– Ninja Viper included.
I like looking at the weird, oddly-colored figures from the 90s, and I knew I wanted to cover something special for Cobra Convergence V. The 1992 Ninja Viper was my eventual choice.
Before we look at the Ninja Viper through my biased, neon-colored lens, I wanted my friend RTG to comment on the figure. He mostly collects GI Joe toys from 1982-84 and their various repaints and other iterations. He’s an expert on the Storm Shadow mold (and a hell of a photographer), but he’s also rather thoughtful about how every figure fits into the GI Joe line as a whole.
1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper, According to RTG of Attica Gazette
“The 1992 Ninja Viper is probably one of the few examples of Hasbro losing it’s mind in the 1990s. While a lot of fans will decry the lack of strict military realism, space aliens, and dayglo orange, those were all things that at least fit in with the action figure landscape of the go-go 90s. The Ninja Viper is different from those things, as it doesn’t fit in with really anything Hasbro was trying as G.I. Joe slipped down a peg or two.
Part of the reason the Ninja Viper doesn’t really fit in, is it’s an 8 year old mold, at a time when the oldest things being repainted were usually around 3 or 4 years old. The Ninja Viper also doesn’t really fit in with the then brand new stylings of the Ninja Force figures. However if there’s a mold that was high enough quality to fit in with the Eco Warriors and Recalled Roadblocks of the G.I. Joe line, it’s the 1984 Storm Shadow sculpt. It was one of the few early 80s figures that had true holding power, and it hits every single detail one thinks of, when they think of Ninjas.
Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about the Ninja Viper, is it’s one of the few repaints of a G.I. Joe from the early years, that maintains the simplicity of the vintage line, while also being an almost stereotypical 1990s figure. Most swivel head repaints Hasbro did in the 90s and 2000s were often very busy looking figures, featuring bland or drab colours. The Ninja Viper is an ’84 mold, done up like an inverted Junior Mints box or one of Seinfeld’s windbreakers. There’s far more charm to that, than red or black. The fact it was one of the few post ’87 figures that was desirable during some of the most dogmatic eras of fandom, shows that a lot of fan biases were more against G.I. Joe changing from what they knew in the Sunbow era, rather than “Bright Colours”.
1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper Review
Let’s get this out of the way– RTG is absolutely right. The 1984 Storm Shadow mold is very good. When I was first entering the online GI Joe fandom and perusing YoJoe.com, many of the older figures’ head molds struck me as bad and awkward, Storm Shadow included. But once I got that comic pack figure in hand, my opinion changed. Everything about it is great.
The 1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper is a straight up repaint of 1984 Storm Shadow (as you can see in the previous photo, thanks to RTG), so it has all of that mold’s great features. I love the belt and strap. I love the arm wraps and all of the various throwing blades sculpted onto the figure. And, while they look different from the figures of the 1990s, I also love how the head and mask are presented, as well. As RTG said, this is the most ninja you can pack into one figure.
Here’s the figure:
I’ve really come around on this figure’s colors. The blue-green and white color scheme is pretty odd for a ninja, but it actually works for me. It’s not a “Cobra Blue” by any means, and it really is reminiscent of medical scrubs, but it’s eye-catching and very different from any other figure in the vintage ARAH line.
The unusual colors look great in photographs– what might seem like a very non-stealthy color scheme for a ninja actually becomes really appealing once you put the figure into various environments. He’s unique, but he doesn’t stick out like a neon target. Even as a person who absolutely adores neon targets, I can appreciate the subtlety.
I’ve never had a problem mixing GI Joe figures from various eras together. It all works as one cohesive toy line to me. But, even if you do keep the eras apart in your mind and your collection, I do think the original Storm Shadow mold can stand alongside the figures from 92-94 without much problem. When I was taking photos for this article, I never felt this figure didn’t mesh with the Ninja Force figures from 1992 or 94 Battle Corps Flint.
The 1992 Ninja Viper was a mail-away figure, and not every figure came with the same exact accessories. You never knew what you were going to get. Most of these figures came with either two dark grey or two light grey recolors of 1987 Jinx’s swords.
These are Jinx’s actual swords, but just imagine them in a less-shiny color (which you can see in the 3 photos RTG contributed):
Here’s the figures All Geared Up:
The swords are a good fit for him and he holds them well. I mentioned earlier that you never knew what you were going to get with these mail-in figures, and some Ninja Vipers didn’t come with any weapons at all. The copy I bought was used and opened and didn’t come with any swords. But Hasbro’s weird inconsistencies mean I can still technically call him complete.
Since Jinx needs her swords (and I don’t have $20 to spend on two tiny, pinty pieces of plastic), I generally equip my Ninja Viper with some Storm Shadow v1 accessories from The Black Major. I have a ton of these accessory sets for some reason. They look very nice with the Ninja Viper, even if my particular figure doesn’t want to grip the tiny sword handles very tightly.
Speaking of The Black Major, he produced his own homage to the Ninja Viper some time around 2016. His factory custom figures are similar to the original release, but they’re not the same.
Here’s a comparison:
The Black Major figure is lighter in color, and the hue seems to have a bit less green mixed in. Though I’m somewhat colorblind, so you’ll have to judge for yourself. The paint on the head is also a bit different, and the shape of the head itself seems different to me, as well.
But there is one very easy way to tell. Just look at that cute lil ninja butt:
The Black Major always stamps his name on his figures so you won’t get them confused with any Hasbro products. Say what you want about factory customs, but I appreciate that the people who make them go out of their way to differentiate their product from the official releases.
My Ninja Viper is pretty beat up and he has loose joints I can’t fix. The Black Major Ninja Vipers do not have that problem. So, that’s another difference– a figure can sustain much more play wear in between 1992 and now than it can between 2016 and now.
As a whole,, the Ninja Viper is weird. Did you read the file card? Who’s giving these guys 12+ years of martial arts training? Storm Shadow is too busy, and he also joined the GI Joe team before this figure came out. Slice and Dice debuted the same year, so they sure as hell weren’t training Ninja Vipers for years prior to their arrival.
I’m very glad Hasbro didn’t decide these guys were just more Arashikage ninjas or Night Creepers, because Cobra having their own ninjas that aren’t mercenaries is very appealing to me. I just wish whoever wrote the filecard did a better job of integrating them into the GI Joe universe.
I think these guys would have to be martial artists before they became Vipers. They had the martial arts skills, but they had to do their time in the Viper Corps like everyone else. Then they got to train with Slice and Dice, and then they got to don their fancy medical scrubs.
I actually love the idea of a small troupe of dedicated, generic Cobra ninjas for Slice and Dice to boss around. I like imagining Ninja Vipers taking on a squad of Night Creepers when contract negotiations get out of hand, or even clashing with Storm Shadow and a little band of Red Ninjas. Cobra ninjas versus regular GI Joe soldiers is also a recipe for fun and drama, so I’m here for the Ninja Viper.
Sadly, this figure still sells for outrageous prices. I don’t talk about the action figure resale market much, as other bloggers are more qualified to discuss that than I am. I just don’t think this figure is worth what you’d usually pay for him. A friend of mine recently sold one of his Ninja Vipers with no filecard or accessories for $125. And that was just what another collector was willing to pay.
I can’t tell you what to do with your life or your money– I can only offer my own thoughts on this strange mail-away figure from 1992. I really enjoy this toy, but I can’t say I enjoy it enough that I’d pay over $100 for it.
Verdict: This is a cool and weird figure. I like it. The 84 Storm Shadow mold is really good, and it holds its own among figures of any other year of ARAH-style Joes. The colors are unique. And pleasant! But it’s prohibitively expensive and not easy to find. Even if you do find one for a decent price, it might be kinda beat up like mine. I don’t mind mine having a little play wear– it’s part of the charm. But, if you just want a neat looking Ninja Viper for a reasonable price, you might just consider going with the Black Major release. Mildly Recommended.
- Ninja Viper at 3DJoes
- Ninja Viper at YoJoe
- Ninja Viper at Half the Battle
- Ninja Viper review from HCC88
Closing Thoughts on the 1992 GI Joe Ninja Viper
Thanks again to RTG for helping me out with this little review!
How about that prototype paint job in the catalog? I think it’s neat, but I also don’t think Hasbro could have painted the face that way consistently. There would be a lot more slop.
What do you think of ninjas in GI Joe? Love them? Hate them? Indifferent?
Also, what do you think of Cobra having its own division of generic ninjas?
Let me know in the comments!