Today, we’re looking at my first Alley Viper. This is my actual childhood figure, who’s somehow still in really good shape. It’s a toy from a year that makes most GI Joe fans point their noses firmly skywards, but it’s one of my favorite years for the toy line.
The 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper is the reason that the Alley Viper is one of my favorite Cobra troops (it comes in second, only behind the Astro Viper) and is probably one of the major reasons I’ve continued to love GI Joe for my entire life.
Like all 1997 Joe figures, he’s a bit of an oddball. There are many reasons Serious Collectors don’t love this toy, but I don’t care about any of those things. This figure is one of my most cherished GI Joe possessions. So, of course I’m going to tell you all about that– but I’ll review the toy, as well. As much as I ever review a toy, anyway.
You know what you’re getting into at this point.
My History with the 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper
The GI Joe: A Real American Hero toy line ended in 1994. At that time, I was getting more into Playmates’ Star Trek assortment and a few other toy brands. I still bought a few GI Joe toys in 94, but my interest was waning a little bit. I still loved GI Joe, of course, but from 1995-97, lines like Kenner’s Star Wars Power of the Force reboot, Beast Wars, and the aforementioned Star Trek line took over a bit.
In the summer of 1998, though, my house burned down. I’ve mentioned this before so I’ll keep it brief, but it’s important to the story. The GI Joe figures I kept in my 1992 Collector’s Case survived. The case was scorched and charred, but it protected the figures inside and it’s still with me to this day. How could I ever throw something like that away?
So, I had some GI Joe figures after the fire. But a lot of my figures and accessories weren’t in that case, and none of my vehicles were. About 60% of what I had melted down into toxic plastic refuse.
We got a small amount of insurance money to replace things like video games and toys, so I picked up a few Lego sets, some Beast Wars toys to replace all of my lost G1, G2, and first wave BW figures, and a Game Boy Color. Luckily, there were still some Joes on the shelves in 1998, too.
I don’t remember if I got the Cobra Rage with Alley Viper for my birthday or got it in the summer, but over the later part of 1998, I got the Slugger, Rage, Viper with Flight Pod, and the Cobra Command Team pack. It was a great assortment of toys that exposed me to both molds and characters I’d never owned before (Oddly, I don’t really remember seeing many of the 1998 figures on shelves).
But I was drawn to the 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper more than any other figure or vehicle I got that year.
I was aware of the 1993 Alley Viper. I saw it on card backs and possibly in catalogs. I only ever saw it in person once, though. I took a bike ride to a neighboring little town with my friends sometime in 94 or 95, and we stopped at the Ben Franklin next to the town’s one grocery store and gas station. There, in the basement with the other toys, I saw the 1993 Alley Viper. It was one of the few 93 figures my friend didn’t have. But they also had a stack of Star Trek TNG figures I’d never seen before, so I bought one of those instead. It was probably the shiny vac metal Locutus figure.
I don’t regret the choice, as that was an amazing toy. But I always still wished I’d found an Alley Viper. The figure’s cool design and gear just struck a chord with me.
In 1998, though, that wish came true. Sure, the 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper wasn’t presented in an aggressive black and yellow color scheme. He had fewer accessories, too. But he looked great and he was an Alley Viper. I didn’t need much more.
The figure itself played double duty for me. He was my only Alley Viper until the 2002 Joe vs. Cobra Alley Viper came along, so he played the role of Cobra’s urban combat legions. I also used him as a “named character,” the Alley Viper leader who commanded the Cobra Rage and oversaw Cobra’s city-based operations. He was a tough customer and could hold his own against the GI Joe team.
He also filled a much stranger role outside of the GI Joe universe. I still loved Beast Wars in 1998. And BW characters were, canonically, much smaller than their G1 ancestors. I figured a human, compared to those figures, would be about GI Joe sized. So I often used the 1997 Alley Viper, sans visor and equipped with a Lanard laser rifle, as a human space marine that found himself in the middle of the Maximals’ and Predacons’ intergalactic conflict.
What I’m saying is I got a ton of use out of this figure. Even still, the one I’ve owned since 1998 is still in great shape, with his original o-ring and accessories.
As I got a few more Alley Vipers in 2002 and beyond, the 97 AV became the team leader full time. The 02 and later Alley Vipers were the disposable troops, but the 97 figure was the leader who either thwarted the Joe team or at least came back alive from every mission. I still think of this figure as my Alley Viper Commander.
A few years ago, my mom brought me a box of stuff from her house. She said it was the last box of my things she had. Digging through her house multiple times, I never found a number of things I left there when I moved– my old Exosquad toys, some handmade pottery and ceramics, and my post-house-fire Joe vehicles.
I organized all of my Transformers recently and, as I was digging through my childhood Beast Wars/Beast Machines bin, I found my 97 Rage, Slugger, and the 2002 HISS IV. A lot of my stuff probably got thrown out, but I was delighted to be reunited with the 1997 Rage.
Now my 1997 Alley Viper has his ride and can preside over all of my other Alley Vipers.
Whenever I think of GI Joe, this figure is one of the first things that comes to mind. I’m just putting my bias up front here before we jump into the review. I’m trying to be as objective as I can, but there aren’t many Joe figures who mean as much to me as this weird kitbashed army builder slash vehicle driver from 1997 does.
1997 GI Joe Alley Viper Review
The 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper was packaged with the second version of the Cobra Rage. Both he and the other Cobra army builder for that year were sold as vehicle drivers, which was a bit odd. Historically, Cobra vehicles often came with generic trooper-type drivers, but they were exclusive to the vehicles. Packing Cobra’s bread-and-butter infantry and urban assault units with vehicles was a daring choice.
Alley Vipers are popular with GI Joe fans, but you don’t see this one as often as the others– precisely because he was a vehicle driver.
You’ll see that vehicle in several photos in this review, but I’m only profiling the figure today. My 97 Rage is neither complete nor fit for review. You can gawk at YoJoe’s photos of it, though, if you want.
There’s one other thing about this figure that diehard fans tend not to like, too. Instead of using the 89 Alley Viper’s legs, as the 93 and 94 versions did, he uses the original 83/84 Duke legs. More on that later.
Anyway, here’s the figure:
The 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper uses the head, torso, waist, and arms from the 1993 Alley Viper version 2. It also reuses that figure’s mask/visor and shield, which we’ll talk about more when we get to the accessories.
Taken as a whole, this is a very nice looking figure. It’s presented mostly in a very dark blue, which doesn’t match most other blue Cobra figures, but complements them nicely anyway. The 97 Alley Viper is a figure that looks good with most figures from the original ARAH run and the later repaint series.
There’s a simple white, blotchy camouflage pattern applied to the figure, which certainly makes it stand out. There’s not another figure in the entire history of o-ring style GI Joe that looks quite like this one. The white works very nicely with the blue, though, and adds the right amount of visual interest to the figure.
There are black highlights for gloves, boots, pouches, and knives, as well as gold highlights for grenades, emblems, and logos. The mask is painted a weird brown color and, unlike Alley Vipers v2 and v3 (as well as all later versions using this mold), the skin around his eyes is unpainted. That’s the trademark laziness of 1997 showing through on this figure.
Here he is with his Alley Viper Ancestors (and one decedent):
You’ll notice the paint around the eyes, as well as the different leg parts. The Duke legs used on the 97 Alley Viper (and later ARAH-style versions) make them a bit shorter, but I feel the parts still work pretty well. They pose nicely and have no fragility issues. They also feature boots, a pistol, and a sheathed knife, which is about all you can ask for with an urban assault trooper. From afar, it seems like an odd parts replacement choice. But, in practice, it works out just fine.
The other oddity comes into play with the figure’s paint scheme, at least compared to the others. Alley Viper versions 2, 3, and 5 all have their front “body armor” painted in a different color to highlight it, which is a very cool look. With the 97 Alley Viper, though, the body armor just blends into the rest of the body.
It’s still a very cool look, but it is drastically different from most other Alley Vipers based on this mold. I don’t mind the difference, but I think this figure might look even cooler if the “body armor” portions on the waist and torso were picked out in a different color.
This figure, like all other Alley Vipers, needs its accessories to really shine.
Speaking of which, here they are:
The 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper comes with a black mask/visor, a black submachine gun, and a black shield that clips onto either arm. The mask and shield came with both earlier 90s versions of the Alley Viper. The SMG also came with those figures, but originated with Dial-Tone from 1986.
If the 1997 GI Joe line did one thing right, it was being generous with the gear it gave to vehicle drivers. Viper, Gung-Ho, Duke, and Alley Viper all got a full accessory loadout. That’s good, because an Alley Viper needs its face shield, an arm shield, and a nice weapon at the very least.
If Hasbro could only choose 3 accessories for this vehicle driver, they picked the right ones. Both the 93-style AV shield and the Dial-Tone SMG are less unwieldy than Alley Viper v1 accessories, so they were a smart inclusion.
Plus, they look great with the figure.
Here he is, All Geared Up:
The mask fits the figure well. It raises and lowers without any problems. Like other Alley Vipers that share this mold, the plastic around the peg hole is prone to breaking, though, so watch out for that. The figure also holds the SMG effortlessly, and the shield snaps onto either arm without any issues.
I’ve only come to own a couple of 1989 Alley Vipers in the last two years. They’re nice looking figures, and an iconic part of the Cobra army, but they’re not much fun to play with in some regards. The large SMG, shield, and backpack are all fiddly and frustrating. The shield should, at the very least, have used a vertical handle instead of a horizontal one. I also find the figure is hard to stand up when it’s fully equipped.
The 1997 Alley Viper has none of these problems. The gear is simple, but it works perfectly and is everything the figure needs.
Here he is with the same figures I compared him to before, but with gear added:
All of the Alley Vipers released from 1989-1997 had gear that suited them nicely. You could ignore the missile launchers if you wanted to. In 2002 and beyond, though, Alley Vipers came with strange weapons that didn’t really work well for them.
If you can find weapons that suit them (and we all probably have a ton of extra accessories at this point), the 02-04 Alley Vipers are all pretty decent. I find the 2002 blue Alley Viper looks especially good with the 1997 version.
If you clicked the link over to YoJoe earlier and looked at the 97 Cobra Rage’s box art, you’ll note that the box shows the vehicle with a repainted 1989 Alley Viper. That didn’t happen, of course. Like many 97 figures, the Alley Viper Hasbro released was made with parts they found at the last minute. In this case, what we actually got was pretty good.
But if you’re hankering for a version of the 89 mold in the colors the 97 Rage box shows, The Black Major made something pretty similar a few years ago. They still haunt eBay once in a while. You can see them in the large Alley Viper group shot and other photos in this review. I will say, though, that the nature of factory custom quality makes them even harder to pose and play with than the genuine 89 Alley Viper.
On the bright side, the 97 Alley Viper looks great with TBM AV gear. It’s kind of neat to see the 1997 figure with a full complement of original Alley Viper accessories.
In an unusual move for me, I’ve pretty much already gone over how I see this figure being used and most of its flaws. Since army building this figure isn’t easy at all, I can’t see any other use for him than an Alley Viper Squad leader, an overall Alley Viper leader, or as a tank commander for the Rage. The 97 Rage works beautifully with most versions of the Alley Viper, and its colors are much better than the 1990 version. The 90 Rage is a very nice vehicle, but its desert color scheme doesn’t make much sense– the vehicle is not at all practical for desert operations. Still, it’s not a bad color scheme and the vehicle is good enough to overcome that one flaw.
If you’re amassing Alley Vipers, though, the 97 Rage is a great vehicle for them– and the 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper looks beautiful with the vehicle, as he should.
This figure has some strange paint choices around the eyes and on the “body armor” portion, the gold paint is prone to wear, and the Duke legs may turn you off. I also think the mask/visor would look better in dark blue than black, but since the rest of the figure’s accessories were cast in black plastic, that probably wasn’t possible.
So this figure isn’t perfect, and it’s not really a practical army builder. But it will always be one of my favorite GI Joe figures, both because of how cool it looks and because of my personal history with it.
Verdict: This figure is a vehicle driver from a year of figures that don’t show up quite as much on the secondary market. That means it’s not a good army builder, unlike most Alley Vipers. While I think the Duke legs are fine, you may not agree. The figure’s paint also suffers, notably around the eyes. But, taken for what it is, it’s a great looking Cobra urban assault trooper with fantastic gear. While it’s not objectively exceptional, it is Recommended.
- 1997 Alley Viper at Forgotten Figures
- 1997 Alley Viper at YoJoe.com
- Unreleased 1997 GI Joe figures at Plastic Battles
Closing Thoughts on the 1997 GI Joe Alley Viper
See? I was pretty objective after all! Even though I love this figure dearly. I also feel this was more straightforward than most of my reviews. Maybe I’m losing my edge? Or maybe it’s just my reverence for this figure showing. We’ll have to see what happens next time around.
What’s your favorite version of the Alley Viper? How important is Cobras urban operations division, in your opinion? In my mind, it’s probably their most important division.
Let’s talk about all these things and more in the comments!